Big Screen vs. Small Screen: The State of the MTU and the Greater MCU

By Tim Biasi


Marvel Studios and Disney have made no bones about the fact that “It’s All Connected”, speaking of course of their television series and their box office juggernaut of a cinematic universe. However, despite their assurances that it’s all connected, in the immortal words of Thor in “Ragnarok”…is it though? Let’s dive a little deeper.


Daredevil came first as a joint venture with Netflix. GREAT show. Watch it. Not the point, though. In the first season we got very subtle references that were definitive nonetheless. When Nelson and Murdock are searching for an office space, they are given a great deal on supposedly prime real estate because of the rebuilding due to the “incident”. This is of course the Battle of New York from the first Avengers film. Beyond that, we got a quick reference by Mr. Wesley to men with iron suits or magic hammers. Beyond that, Daredevil was not connected to the films at all. Connected to Daredevil was Marvel and Netflix’s next foray, Jessica Jones. In season one, you get one reference from Jessica referring to “the flagwaver” or the “big green guy”. Then, they got a bit more ambitious in season two, where Jessica’s boyfriend’s son wants to show her his Captain America action figure. So they at least established that Cap exists in their universe, but the feeling was clearly not reciprocal. There were no noticeable references in Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Punisher, all of which carved out their own sections of the Marvel TV web before being summarily cancelled once their usefulness to Netflix ended. The fallout of these cancellations we’ll get to later on.


While the shows on Netflix made the biggest impact on the TV landscape, Marvel also had shows on ABC. They had Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. While these shows were further into canon with the movies, sharing characters that appeared in the movies such as Coulson and Peggy Carter, they went the same way as the Netflixverse, going almost completely unreferenced in the subsequent movies. They referenced the films, the films ignored them (save for a Jarvis reference in Endgame). So I say again, are they all connected when the relationship is so one-sided?


Now, the reason for this is simple. The television division is run by separate executives than the Movie division. Kevin Feige doesn’t have his hands in the pies of the television shows nor do I presume he even has the time. This is because the shows are on a network and a streaming service so that’s more separation between the content creators and the content. So, as such, one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing. Not saying this is a good thing or bad thing one way or another, but it’s kind of a leap to encourage your audience to infer connections that you yourself are unwilling to make. But, with the advent of Disney +, things are about to get very interesting.


Marvel and Disney own the television rights to the Defenders and Punisher. However, as part of their deal with Netflix, upon each of their respective cancellations a two year non-compete period comes into effect. Essentially, those characters in their current forms (meaning casting and such) cannot appear in any other medium (hence why Strange didn’t portal them in at the end of Endgame). As of this writing, Marvel/Disney has the following shows announced in their Disney + pipeline: Hawkeye (starring Jeremy Renner), the infinitely horribly titled WandaVision (starring Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany), Falcon and the Winter Soldier (starring Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan), Loki (starring Tom Hiddleston), She Hulk (currently no casting announced) and Moon Knight (also no casting currently announced). Marvel/Disney is making a statement that at the very least, the Disney + branch of the television universe will be connected with the MCU and possibly even referenced going forward considering they’re moving ahead with the actors from the films. Where things get interesting is that these shows aren’t premiering until next year at the earliest.


For those keeping score at home, Daredevil was cancelled by Netflix in November of 2018. November 2020 is when that pesky non-compete expires. Matthew Murdock has quite a history with She-Hulk and he would be free and clear to team up with her. Provided Charlie Cox has the availability needed, this could be the same Daredevil we know and love. Same goes for The Punisher, Jessica Jones, and all our other Netflix heroes. Disney + is going to be a juggernaut that is going to churn out content faster than we can consume it and they’re not showing signs of slowing down. Marvel/Disney’s patience could pay off in spades by playing the long game they’re so good at and rolling out their own streaming television service just in time for them to be in development on shows in which the cancelled characters could appear. The timing seems too perfect to ignore. I think Disney/Marvel realizes perfect way to re-integrate these characters into the emerging Disney Plus…verse and allow them to properly be part of MCU canon like Marvel/Disney swears they are. There are so many possibilities to explore, so many crossover comics to explore and so many paying customers to satisfy with the slightest of ease. It’s pretty obvious that Marvel listens to the people who buy their services and tickets, so I don’t necessarily think this is a pipe dream.


Characters that appeared in the Marvel movies that were presided over by Kevin Feige are now branching off into their own television shows that will also be run by Kevin Feige. As we all know, the Marvel Cinematic Universe starts, runs through and stops with Kevin Feige. He had no involvement with the Netflix shows because of the deal Marvel/Disney made with Netflix. Now that Netflix is no longer in the picture, there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping him from assuming control of these properties once the clock runs out on the non-compete clauses. I’m not going to eulogize the Defenders and the Punisher until the Great Feige says so. Considering his reputation, he might have something brewing in the near future, and we’ll all be better for it.


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